Everything Is Obvious

  • by Duncan J. Watts
  • Narrated by Duncan J. Watts
  • 8 hrs and 44 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Why is the Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the world? Why did Facebook succeed when other social-networking sites failed? Did the surge in Iraq really lead to less violence? How much can CEO’s impact the performance of their companies? And does higher pay incentivize people to work hard?
If you think the answers to these questions are a matter of common sense, think again. As sociologist and network science pioneer Duncan Watts explains in this provocative book, the explanations that we give for the outcomes that we observe in life - explanation that seem obvious once we know the answer - are less useful than they seem.
Drawing on the latest scientific research, along with a wealth of historical and contemporary examples, Watts shows how common sense reasoning and history conspire to mislead us into believing that we understand more about the world of human behavior than we do; and in turn, why attempts to predict, manage, or manipulate social and economic systems so often go awry.
It seems obvious, for example, that people respond to incentives; yet policy makers and managers alike frequently fail to anticipate how people will respond to the incentives they create. Social trends often seem to have been driven by certain influential people; yet marketers have been unable to identify these “influencers” in advance. And although successful products or companies always seem in retrospect to have succeeded because of their unique qualities, predicting the qualities of the next hit product or hot company is notoriously difficult, even for experienced professionals.
Only by understanding how and when common sense fails, Watts argues, can we improve how we plan for the future, as well as understand the present - an argument that has important implications in politics, business, and marketing, as well as in science and everyday life.


What the Critics Say

"Every once in a while, a book comes along that forces us to re-examine what we know and how we know it. This is one of those books. And while it is not always pleasurable to realize the many ways in which we are wrong, it is useful to figure out the cases where our intuitions fail us." (Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and New York Times best-selling author of Predictably Irrational)
“A deep and insightful book that is a joy to read. There are new ideas on every page, and none of them is obvious!” (Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of Stumbling on Happiness)
"A brilliant account of why, for every hard question, there’s a common sense answer that’s simple, seductive, and spectacularly wrong. If you are suspicious of pop sociology, rogue economics, and didactic history - or, more importantly, if you aren’t! - Everything is Obvious is necessary reading. It will literally change the way you think." (Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology. New York University)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Not so obvious

There are a few interesting nuggets to ponder but don't expect the next "Tipping Point" although he often quotes Gladwell.

The narration would have been far better if read by Humphrey Bower.

The central point, with which I agree, is that looking at incidents in reverse doesn't always lead to cause. Fair enough. But then Watts takes us on a crazy trip of irrational thinking.

For example, people drive drunk every day without killing anyone, so, is drunk driving the cause of so many fatalities? Or is it .....fate? He gives a tragic example of a drunk killing an entire family. But had they lingered at their starting point a moment longer, the drunk would have sped through the red light ahead of them rather than in to them. Is this really worth discussing? Since people drive drunk without killing people every time, we are to suspend drunk driving as a cause for fatalities?

I think there's an attempt to muddy thinking. Sort of the old lawyer trick of making you doubt your own testimony.

Skip this one.
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- Chris Reich "Business Physicist and Astronomer"

Thought provoking

Duncan Watts is a physics professor turned sociology professor. I was intrigued by the idea of someone who could bring 'hard science' approaches to sociology. You might want to read the last chapter first as he summarizes the differences between sociological and hard science research. However, this is done in a most positive way - he points out that sociologic studies are important and that there are means and methods that can be used and developed to achieve better understanding into human behavior.

His insights are very thought provoking. He points out that many aspects of sociological studies that are generally not considered. For instance, we have a way of explaining history after we already know the outcome. Was the surge in Iraq really responsible for turning around that conflict or was it some combination of other factors such as rebuidling infrastructure, training new police, training new Iraqi military, more experienced government etc. There's really no way to tell because we can't run an 'experiment' to see what would happen if there was no surge...

Sociologist often fall upon what they term common sense explanations....but these explanations only work well when you already know the answer.

This is a great addition to the series Outliers and Predictably Irrational. I look forward to the contributions of his approach into important social issues.

I would have given it 5 stars, but I found it unfortunate that he often did not credit some of the work he cited. I understand that this is not a scientific paper but some of the more important and lengthy examples he cites should have been credited.
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- Stephen

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-29-2011
  • Publisher: Random House Audio